Craft Spells, The Soft Moon and Witch Gardens at Vera Project, Seattle | 3 April 2011
I was ready to title this with some reference to OMD‘s Architecture and Morality or New Order‘s Power Corruption and Lies. Hell, just look at the cover to Craft Spells album Idle Labor and you get the feeling that it’s an unabashed homage to New Order. Listen to it and your suspicions are confirmed. It’s full of synthesizers and electronic new wave dance beats. So my expectations were temporarily dashed when I saw the stage devoid of any keyboards, laptops, or knobs. Was this the right band?
As Craft Spells came on stage for their record release show a boy with a flower in his hat yelled “Cutest band in Seattle.” They were kind of cute in a cuddly teddy bear way. Singer and songwriter Justin Vallesteros looked especially cuddly with his pegged jeans, madras shirt and cardigan. The band breezed through a short eight songs set in front of their new hometown (Vallesteros recently relocated the band from Stockton, California).
To tell the truth, it was a bold move to rethink their sound and it worked for the most part. There were a few bum notes from the lead guitarist playing a hollow body Epiphone, but they didn’t distract too much from the young band’s new funkier and juicier sound. Nobody else seemed to mind the change either as the songs were all still very danceable. They steered away from playing some of Idle Labor’s moodier numbers keeping things lite and lively. The audience was enthusiastic and there much dancing ensued. Vallesteros and his band got a work out too as was evidenced in his breathless between song banter. Going back and listening to the record and singles after seeing them live there is a definite Orange Juice inspiration on songs like After the Moment and Party Talk. Stripping away the synths, that inspiration was brought to prominence.
For San Francisco’s the Soft Moon who are label mates of Craft Spells, there were no surprises in store. They stuck with their dark wave / gothic sound. With the lights out (what self-respecting goth band would have the lights on?) and a big screen video projector behind them providing movement they stormed through their set. One guy was stationed behind a control console twisting knobs juxtaposed by a live bass player. The rest was left up to front guy Luis Vasquez with his own knobs, a keyboard and a guitar. Some of the vocals were shouted like a Nitzer Ebb song while others whispered. The guitars whirred by sounding like futuristic magnetic repulsion cars evoking many a Clan of Xymox song. The Soft Moon created a highly stylzed racket, but they could do with a few more memorable songs like Tiny Spiders to go with it.
Seattle DIYr’s Witch Gardens opened the show with their take on pacific northwest style indiepop which included an autoharp. Made up of a trio of ladies and a boy playing guitar, they were good ramshackle fun. My favorite song of their set was Lifeguard Chick which they introduced as being for people who like to have fun. There is a recorded version of it on their MySpace, but it doesn’t do it justice you’ve gotta see them live.
Here are the upcoming Craft Spells tour dates, all of which (except for 4/09) are with their labelmates Beach Fossils:
04/07 Stony Brook, NY – University Cafe (Stony Brook University)
04/08 Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg
04/09 Brooklyn, NY – Glassands (w/ Cloud Nothings, Sundelles)
04/13 Baltimore, MD – Ottobar
04/14 Washington, DC – DC9
04/16 Philadelphia, PA – Johnny Brendas
04/18 Winooski, VT – The Monkey House
04/19 Montreal, QC – La Sala Rossa
04/20 Toronto, ON – Parts & Labour
04/21 Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle
04/22 Louisville, KY – Zanzabar
04/24 Cleveland, OH – Happy Dog
04/25 State College, PA – Chronic Town
04/27 Allston, MA – Great Scott
05/01 Tucson, AZ – Club Congress
05/02 San Diego, CA – Soda Bar
05/03 Los Angeles, CA – Echo
05/04 Visalia, CA – The Cellar Door
05/05 San Francisco, CA – Slims
05/06 Portland, OR – Star Theater
05/07 Seattle, WA – Chop Suey
05/08 Vancouver, BC – Media Club